Va. Pastor Guilty in Same-Sex Union Custody Case
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - A pastor from Virginia was convicted Tuesday of helping a woman flee the country three years ago, when she was on the brink of having to turn custody of her young daughter over to the woman who was once her partner in a Vermont civil union.
The jury issued its verdict against the Rev. Kenneth Miller after several hours of deliberations in the case, which has drawn broad attention because of the legal and religious questions it raised about same-sex unions and child custody, and because the whereabouts of mother and daughter remain unknown.
Miller, 46, a Mennonite from Stuarts Draft, Va., was charged with aiding in international kidnapping for helping Lisa Miller and her daughter, Isabella, leave the country in September 2009, a month after a judge indicated he would turn custody of the girl over to Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vt., if she continued to defy a series of visitation orders.
Kenneth and Lisa Miller are not related. Lisa and Isabella, now 10 years old, were last known to be in Nicaragua.
As the jury was deliberating, Jenkins filed a lawsuit against both Millers and other people associated with the case, seeking unspecified monetary damages.
Kenneth Miller showed no emotion as the verdict was read and will remain free pending sentencing, although he was ordered to surrender his passport. After the verdict, his supporters walked out of the Burlington courthouse, lined up across the street and began singing hymns.
"I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions," said Miller, who could spend three years in prison. "I am at peace with God. I am peace with my conscience and I give it over to God, and at the same time I respect the decision of the court."
He said an appeal would be up to his attorneys, who left the courthouse shortly after the verdict was read.
Jenkins was not in court at the time, but her attorney said she is pleased that Kenneth Miller was being held accountable.
"She hopes that the verdict will send a message to those who continue to aid and abet Lisa Miller in Nicaragua," said attorney Sarah Star. "Her greatest hope is that the government’s efforts will lead to Isabella’s safe return to Vermont."
During three days of testimony, prosecutors used cellphone records and sometimes-reluctant witnesses to lay out a broad network overseen by Kenneth Miller that helped Lisa and Isabella travel first to Canada and then Nicaragua.